Top 5 Board Game Cafes in Saigon
With over a dozen gaming cafes around Saigon, it can be overwhelming deciding where to hold your next gaming session. Luckily, we’ve taken many trips to these places on numerous occasions throughout the last two months to learn more on the amenities and services each provided. We spoke to the owners, customers, also did some assessment reviewing key details about each location to share our take on the experience.
On ratings, we took the average from 7 metrics: 1. customer service, 2. food and beverage, 3. game selection, 4. hours, 5. location and parking, 6. comfort level, and 7. price. Customer service is how welcoming staff treated customers and their position experience. Food and beverage sums to the options available, preparation and quality. Most important is the game selection: How many variety of games do they shelve? Opening hours is another metric to calculate the times the doors are opened for customers. For location and parking, we asked others their ease on locating the place on their first visit and if there were any parking issues. We looked at the noise level, seating, and cleanliness to measure the comfort. Finally, we assessed the overall value through the cost of services. The scores range from 1 to 5, 5 being outstanding.
Browsing through various cafes, it is also important to look at other determinants which may influence a rating. For instance, a person which comes alone may have an entirely different experience than one that comes with their group of friends. Many variances are solely dependent on that individual, so we do not factor that in. Obviously, someone with a preference for heavy war games will probably not find a party games cafe suitable towards their interests. For these reasons, we take such questionable factors out but at the same token also inset our own opinions which are shared, but not included in the overall ratings.
Though we try to be objective on the ratings, please note some of the statements below are more opinionated to pronounce the experience others have expressed to us. By no means our reviews are challenging the businesses, we have written this more to share to the community and the article’s intention is to provide more of an informative testament. More is clarified in our disclaimer section found on the bottom of this article. Without further adieu, our top 5 finds:
#5 – Cashflow Cafe
Probably the oldest games cafe still in operation is Cashflow. They opened back in 2013 and was inspired by Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad financial investment game. There was a filing on an international lawsuit from the original makers for using their name without proper consent or licensing. Cashflow’s business model has since transformed over the years proving it to be a separate entity from that of the author’s.
Today the name still stands under a dozen or so shareholders as they consider themselves a start-up. The building has three levels and is usually full. Their business is focused on game leading and the cafe itself. They also capitalize on selling fake reprints. Up to now, they’ve been really struggling. The model itself is also cut-throat for the staff. One part-time ex-employee shared, “One week I’m booked 20 hours, next week I have 5.” This unpredictability and poor management have lead staff coming in and out constantly.
Needless to say, the place offers a fun environment for many young students and those new to board games. Cashflow draws in many due to it’s proximity to local college and universities. It is a popular hangout spot and even more so since it is right next to the district’s youth cultural center. However, the cafe caters mainly to young Vietnamese students. The place can get loud and crowded at times with modern card games and yes, the infamous werewolf.
Cashflow features predominately imitation games with very limited original games. But it is one of the well-known places for locals and have been around for some time. Many foreigners have complained the place to be “mildly unclean” with poor customer service. This may be due in part with staff knowing limited English. The cafe also forces all customers to purchase drinks which isn’t fair when all that is available are artificial-flavor iced drinks.
PROS: Property with 3 levels, over 50+ entry-level games, low and high tables, themed interior, multiple restrooms, unlimited “tra da”, easy to make new friends, working AC, some games translated into Vietnamese
CONS: Limited drinks menu, no food options, limited WiFi, low quality reprints (imitation games), walls reflect noise, short staffed on game leaders, gets crowed on evening and weekends, parking is separate from property
Customer service: 3 | Food & beverage: 2 | Game selection: 4 | Hours: 4 | Location & parking: 3 | Comfort: 3 | Price: 3 | Total points: 3.1
#4 – iWans Board Game Coffee & Tea
University Village, Linh Trung Ward, Thủ Đức District, Hồ Chí Minh City | Opens daily: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM (closed Mondays)
iWans is one of Saigon’s newest cafe featuring 100% authentic games. The owners (a couple), have rented out a 2 story building and revamped it into a board games hot spot for university students. Although a slow start, they are increasing their customer base each week. The crew is a group of ambitious friends hoping to spread board games in the outskirts of Saigon.
Currently, they have a very small games library. However, they want to focus more on the experience for new players. Prices are super affordable and all staff members know many games such as Splendor and Bang! They join together in uniforms and hope to professionally collaborate with teachers and neighboring schools on programs as well as events.
If you are trying to locate this cafe, it might be challenging if you don’t know Tu Duc well. One of the staff members forwarded to us a digitally drawn map (pictured to the right) which might serve of some value if this will be your first time visiting the place.
The location of iWans makes business very favorable being nested around targeted audiences. The cafe might grow to become a popular attraction as there are few highlights in Tu Duc. In addition, the team has a lot of energy being inspired by a newfound interest. Only time can tell, but at least they are off to a good start!
PROS: Friendly atmosphere, affordable drinks menu, authentic games, easy to make new friends, long opening times, working AC, quiet safe neighborhood, free parking
CONS: Limited drink options, low games selection, seating can be uncomfortable, cafe may be challenging to locate
Customer service: 5 | Food & beverage: 2 | Game selection: 2 | Hours: 4 | Location & parking: 3 | Comfort: 4 | Price: 5 | Total points: 3.4
#3 – HUB Tavern
30 Nguyễn Đình Chính Street, Quận Phú Nhuận, Ho Chi Minh City | 096 920 4339 | Opens weekdays: 2:00 PM – 10:00 PM + weekends: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Previously named Alliance of the Round Table (Vietnamese: Lien Mien Ban Trong), this place has been operating more as a games club attracting enthusiasts and otaku’s. After a few too many game sessions, the private owner decided to partner with Boardgame HUB, a Vietnamese gaming group sharing interests on reviewing board games online.
Together, they revamped their gaming club into a games arena. The interior decorates with a medieval theme with walls making you feel as if you are in a king’s castle. They even have a gaming space called the “War Room” with a fireplace along with torches lighting the areas. In a true sense, it’s probably not accurate to label HUB Tavern a “cafe” as there are only 5 drink options from the menu. But this place aims to cater more towards serious players vested in the gaming world. They have gaming nights (called “offline events”), tournaments, and even hold days where you can trade games with other players.
HUB Tavern has been very active in the community updating their happenings frequently online. Perhaps it is noteworthy to mention they are committed and have an affinity towards developing the gaming culture here in Saigon. They also work with many local gaming groups (such as BG Viet and BGVN) and often hold events to bring people together. A fun annual tournament to attend is the Catan Championship held each November where players can register and actually also win prizes.
It can be intimidating if it is your first time visiting. But surely making new friends can be easy as this place gets busy late in the evening. The game selection is large, a mix between authentic and imitation games from China. A few have shared playing games at the place where they were missing pieces. But it’s really minor as you can replace tokens from other games.
Playing at HUB Tavern can be a fun experience, they have knowledgeable game leaders that can help select and teach you on new games. However, there are some that share the place being more expensive and not having enough drink/food options. Our guess is greasy fingers don’t work too well on expensive board games. In addition to this, they also have a few other things that can be improved.
Though beautifully themed, some have not enjoyed the experience saying the lighting is too dim or direct which causes shadows making it difficult to play. A few have complained about the echo and noise, especially on a crowded night. Some also brought up the issue about the restrooms being unsanitary and that there were never toilet tissue available – which can be a big problem when you have to go number 2!
HUB Tavern‘s strength has always been about connecting the Vietnamese community. They do a very good job at that. On the other hand, part of the business is also unfocused shifting towards selling cheap imitation games. It’s difficult to balance a good business model but we commend their willingness to work with many people to expand the gaming community.
PROS: Competitive atmosphere, multiple gaming rooms, easy to make new friends, great place to bring your own games, comfortable padded wooden chairs, working AC, good WiFi, free parking
CONS: Limited drink options, no food options, selection of unauthentic imitation games, low lighting in some rooms, walls reflect noise, parking separate from property, may be difficult to locate on busy street
Customer service: 4 | Food & beverage: 2 | Game selection: 4 | Hours: 3 | Location & parking: 4 | Comfort: 4 | Price: 4 | Total points: 3.6
#2 – Tabletop Cafe
Hẻm 322 – 324/1 Điện Biên Phủ Street, Ward 11, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City | 0128 366 4936 | Open weekdays: 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM + weekends: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Opened in the August of 2016, Tabletop Cafe is a low-key destination operating through referrals. It might be intimidating if you were to walk into the place alone. But if you show your understanding on games then you should fit in okay.
The owner of this place has invested in outside signage and some interior decor, including an indoor waterfall fountain. The games library is also impressive, but you won’t find many beginner games. The staff doesn’t have many party games either, so you can probably get a sense of the gaming culture here versus Cashflow. However it is not to say they don’t have quality games. In fact, you’ll probably find nothing but top-tiered games at Tabletop. For the gaming enthusiast, it’s heaven. There are all sorts of games from Kemet to Through the Ages. They even have popular Euro-games like Agricola and Caverna.
Overall, this place rates high on our books. The place is a little off the grid as they are not heavy on marketing. But being that it is less known suffices for a unique gaming experience. Not only that, they have a large menu with many food options to choose from, but the prices on items are a bit higher. For example, bottled water runs at 25k, which is 5 times what you would pay out on the streets. However, the shop doesn’t mandate on purchases; the option is just conveniently there for customers, which makes reasonable sense for business.
There are a few things that can be improved. Because the floors are already laid with ceramic tiles and are easy to clean, it’s not really convenient having to take your shoes on and off, especially every time you take a restroom break. The seats at this cafe are also not so comfortable if you were to spend over 2 hours there. A cushioning of come sort can be added to improve the experience – given if the owner wants people to stay around for longer game durations.
We recommend this place for experienced players as there’s a lot to offer as in terms how game selection goes. There are plenty of seatings available and the place is usually never busy. We have been there a total of five times: on weekdays and weekends, afternoon and evenings. The most crowded Tabletop gets are in the evenings with about a dozen players (whilst the place can easily fit three times that amount). If you are looking for a quiet place where you can have your own space to do an extreme gaming session, this is the destination. Enjoying one game starts at 15k, unlimited is 20k – which is a bargain if you are planning to do a game marathon. You won’t find any cheaper place in town!
PROS: More quiet environment compared to other game cafes, wide selection of advanced games, 100% authentic games, lots of privacy (staff doesn’t bother or pressure customers to buy anything), pick a game (self-service), reasonable prices, large beverage and food menu, great lighting, working AC, good WiFi, free parking
CONS: Seats can be uncomfortable, staff may not be there to cater you, prices for food and beverages may be high, may be difficult to locate as shop is in the alley (hem) and can be easily passed on the one-way street
Customer service: 4 | Food & beverage: 5 | Game selection: 4 | Hours: 3 | Location & parking: 4 | Comfort: 4 | Price: 5 | Total points: 4.1
#1 – Board Game Station (a.k.a The Station)
21 Trịnh Văn Cấn Street, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh City | 090 936 1556 | 08:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Originally named Saigon Board Game Cafe, the owners quarreled over management and operations which lead to the separation and new management under Board Game Station. This business is funded by investors with two individuals running the the shop – one of which is a foreigner. Their ambitions are to perfect a system and make this concept a franchise in Vietnam. The shop has proved to be a popular location and many foreigners have rated this games cafe high on their list.
Employing over 12 staff members, Board Game Station (referred to as “The Station”), is never short on game leaders. Whether you are new or familiar to board games, you can always find someone there to help lead or even game with. There are over 50 titles to choose from, including classics like Life, Monopoly, and Risk. They also have popular games like 7 Wonders. And if you are into the more advanced games, they also hold Star Wars gaming nights!
The Station is always pumped as they collaborate with schools and other organizations like Storytelling Saigon. Their strength is in their spirit which provides for a quality experience. The place is friendly towards foreigners as management enforces an English-speaking environment. It’s also comfortable not having to take off your shoes as many other cafes require customers to do so.
The food selection is decent, with real fruit drinks and smoothies. They also offer Western food like spaghetti and even toasts. If you choose to let them know in advance, the shop is said also to open late through the night. This is very pleasant to now especially if your group of friends are night-owls wanting gaming hours after midnight.
Customer service has been super, but a lot of people have complained about the prices being high. For example, a coconut which is typically 7k out on the street is 35k at The Station. Even nước chanh (lemon water), is priced on the same level with other drinks. As for a game session, it is calculated per person for 69k, which includes a free drink. Each drink have different costs, so it’s tricky how they keep track on expenses. Our take is find the most expensive drink if you’re trying to pitch pennies.
Aside from the prices, customers have also complained about the membership program, which can be confusing to understand. Basically, the more you come, the more discounts you get, but it’s not clear how much and there’s really no way to track points if you were to loose your membership card. Some customers in the past have also commented on the noise problem. But they have since mitigated that issue with new noise reduction foam they’ve installed as of recent.
In summary, this place is very much targeted towards foreigners and customers seeking for a more premium experience. You’ll hear more English-speaking friends here and this may be a great way to practice English if it’s not your native language. Teachers and many organizations have supported this cafe, it has a great location, let’s anticipate it to remain this way.
PROS: Game leading and guidance, wide selection of games, 100% authentic games, decent food and beverage selction, easy to make new friends, working AC, free and secured parking in front, friendly service, convenient and easy-to-find location
CONS: Hard to find seating as the place often gets crowded, space can be cramped, prices are confusing for customers, some games have been reported with missing components, limited WiFi
Customer service: 5 | Food & beverage: 4 | Game selection: 4 | Hours: 5 | Location & parking: 5 | Comfort: 4 | Price: 4 | Total points: 4.4
Disclaimer: Saigon Board Game does not endorse or have affiliation to cafes mentioned throughout this article. Though we strive to keep information accurate and updated, details on prices and/or services from cafes may change over time. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the information shared. Content written here was last updated on October 22nd, 2016. If you are an owner or customer with information you wish for us to update, please feel free to reach out to us: hello (at)saigonboardgame (dot)com